Lost Time is Found Again- A Hidden Gem Recovered

Back in March, Local History & Genealogy Division Clerk, Jordan Wallance, was going through our collection records to identify books that had been improperly catalogued when he stumbled upon an entry that gave him pause—an item simply labeled, “Autograph Book” in parentheses.

His curiosity piqued, Jordan searched for the item in our stacks and amongst the rows of books he uncovered a plain brown volume whose contents were anything but ordinary. Recognizing the book’s importance, he immediately shared his discovery with our Special Collections Librarian, Brandon Fess.

The item listed as: (Autograph Book) in our catalogue. From the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

Pasted within the book’s pages were letters and notes signed by a number of major historical figures of the mid-nineteenth century, including President Millard Fillmore and Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney.

Autograph of Millard Fillmore,13th President of the United States of America. From:the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

The letters, dating from 1858 to 1860, were addressed to the book’s owner, Henry Fitch Huntington. Huntington would go on to become successful locally in both the banking and real estate industries, but had received each of these messages from American luminaries when he was only a teenager.

Henry Fitch Huntington’s home on the corner of West Avenue and Colvin Street. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1900.

Though today’s average teen probably isn’t champing at the bit for the signatures of Supreme Court justices, those of Huntington’s generation were well immersed in the practice of autograph collecting.

Autograph books first appeared in Germany and Holland in the 1500s as a way for college students to compile the signatures, notes, and sketches of their classmates and teachers—much like a yearbook. Academics also employed them to collect the salutations and contact information of their colleagues and acquaintances.

By the eighteenth century, the practice had migrated to the United States, and though many book owners continued to fill their pages with the inscriptions of friends and family, others began mailing autograph requests to more esteemed figures.

The collection that young Henry Huntington amassed between the ages of 14 and 16 offers an impressive vignette of American political and cultural life in the pre-Civil War era.

No less than four New York governors mark the book’s pages, including William H. Seward, who would deliver an impassioned anti-slavery speech at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall seven months after he sent his note to Huntington in 1858.

William H. Seward’s ca March 1858 message to Henry Huntington. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

Other politicians lining the book’s pages include the diametrical figures of John C. Breckinridge–the Kentucky native who served as Vice President under John Buchanan before becoming the Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America–and Lyman Trumbull, the Illinois Senator who co-authored the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.

A ca February 1858 letter from then-Vice President, John C. Breckinridge. From: the Collection of the Local History Division of the Rochester Public Library.

The book also contains the names of individuals who were intimately tied to two of the major technological innovations of the nineteenth century, Erastus Corning, the first president of the New York Central Railroad, and Cyrus W. Field, who established the American Telegraph Company and laid the first telegraph line across the Atlantic Ocean.

Cultural figures also made their mark in Huntington’s book. The young celebrity seeker was apparently especially enamored with poets, as evidenced by the signatures of William Cullen Bryant (also a former editor of the New York Evening Post), Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The script of scribe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. From: the Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library.

In amassing the autographs of these noteworthy figures, Henry Fitch Huntington may have just been following the fad of his day, but the collection he created effectively captures an era, offering a microcosm of mid-nineteenth century America. And thanks to our Clerk, Jordan Wallance, this unique time capsule has been recovered and will remain preserved and accessible to library visitors and researchers for years to come.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 22, 2021 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

Special Collections Spotlight: Robert N. Abbott

The Special Collections of the Local History and Genealogy Division are an amazing, yet lesser known treasure. The collections hold personal papers, records, manuscripts, and personal observations of times past. The rich history of Rochester can be uncovered through the primary documents of the city’s organizations and unique citizens.

One such unique citizen was Robert N. Abbott.

Robert “Bob” Abbott’s 1934 Madison High School yearbook. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Mr. Abbott was born in 1915. After graduating from Madison High School, he worked for Eastman Kodak before joining the United States Army in November 1940.

World War II saw the need for a larger officer corps so Pvt. Abbott attended the Officer Candidate School, from which he graduated as a 2nd Lt. He was sent overseas in 1942.

While stationed in North Africa, Abbott was promoted to 1st Lt. and awarded the Silver Star. He earned his second Silver Star the following year while serving as a Captain during the Sicilian Campaign. Abbott was promoted to Major in late 1944, only four years after joining the service.

His gallantry under fire came with a cost–he was wounded three times. During his military career, the U.S Army awarded Abbott three Purple Hearts, four Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, and a Cross for Conspicuous Service. He also received the Croix de Guerre from the French government.

Robert Abbott returned to Rochester following the war and married Winona McConnachie in February 1945. He became active in the local community, promoting Red Cross blood drives and War Bonds sales.

Robert and Winona Abbott in 1945. From the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Abbott recognized a need to support veterans returning home. He became a Councilor with the New York State Veterans Administration in the fall of 1945 and was active in the local American Legion organization, serving as the Commander of the Loeser-Shaulan Post.

As he did in the military, Abbott quickly showed his leadership skills within the VA. In June of 1946, Abbott became the Director of the Veterans Information Bureau in Rochester. He resigned exactly a year later to re-enlist in the Army.

When hostilities broke out in Korea in 1950, Major Abbott was deployed as an advisor to the South Korean Army. In December 1950, Winona Abbott received a telegram informing her that her husband was reported missing in action.

Telegram dated December 6, 1950 informing Winona Abbott that her husband was M.I.A. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

It wasn’t until December 1951 that it was confirmed that Abbott was a prisoner of war of the Communist Chinese.

Winona Abbott learning that her husband was on a list of prisoners of war given negotiators. From: Democrat & Chronicle, December 19, 1951

Two years later on September 5th, 1953, the headlines of all the local newspapers proclaimed that Robert Abbott, now a Lt. Colonel and the most decorated soldier from Rochester in the last two wars, had been freed from captivity. Winona Abbott received a telegram from her husband the very next day.

Robert Abbott’s 1953 telegram to Winona following his release from the POW camp. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

The 33 months Abbott spent as a captive of the Communists fueled his drive to combat Communism for the rest of his life. He became a much sought-after speaker throughout the Rochester community, and gave numerous talks on his captivity, patriotism, and anti-Communism.

In March 1954, Col. Abbott was appointed as the director of the newly established Monroe County Office of Civil Defense (formed from the merger of the Monroe County and City Departments of Civil Defense). The organization was formed in response to the Cold War–fear of the Soviet Union was very real and there was a need to develop plans and procedures in case of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Lt. Col. Robert N. Abbott (center) upon his appointment to the Monroe County Office of Civil Defense. City Manager Robert P. Aex stands on the left, and County Manager, Clarence A. Smith, on the right. From: the Democrat & Chronicle, March 27, 1954.

Abbott’s fervent anti-Communism drove him relentlessly. By mid-1954, Abbott and his staff had created rules for the public to follow during the civil defense drills that were held across Rochester. The following year, Abbott witnessed a nuclear bomb test explosion in the Nevada desert. The massive damage and effects he observed furthered his intense drive to ensure the safety of Monroe County’s residents.

The Civil Defense office devised a massive evacuation plan for the City in the mid-1950s. Abbott also became a proponent of family bomb shelters. Throughout the rest of the 1950s and early 1960s, Director Abbott continued to improve plans and procedures which would protect the citizens of Rochester from a Communist attack.

Annual Report for the Monroe County Office of Civil Defense, 1959. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

Though his office was steeped in foreign affairs, Abbott later faced a crisis on the domestic front. In July of 1964, a racial uprising sparked by decades of inequality saw widespread violence erupt in the city. The NYS Police were summoned and Rochester became the first northern city to have the National Guard called in for an urban uprising.

Rochester Police Chief William Lombard sought out Abbott’s expertise. A decision was made to assess the damage to the city from the air and Director Abbott chartered a helicopter to survey the destruction. A pilot error caused the helicopter to crash into a house on Clarissa Street. The pilot and two of the home’s residents were killed. Abbott passed away a few weeks later from his extensive injuries. He was 49 years old.

Robert Abbott contributed so much to his hometown. His patriotism carried him through two wars where he earned numerous awards and his experiences as a POW drove him to excel in his efforts to protect the citizens of Rochester from a Communist nuclear attack.

Robert N. Abbott receiving the Croix de Guerre from the French government. From: the Robert N. Abbott Collection, Local History & Genealogy Division, Rochester Public Library.

To learn more about Robert Abbott from his papers, speeches, correspondences, newspaper clippings, and photographs, an online collection on the Rochester Voices website is available here.

To make an appointment in the Local History and Genealogy Division to peruse the Robert N. Abbott Collection, fill out the form here.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on April 8, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

500 Norton Street, pt. 4: Reflections on the End

A former Red Wings uniform. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

By the mid-1990s, serious change was in the air at 500 Norton Street. The improvements of Silver Stadium’s 1987 renovation had offered a short-term remedy, but the circa 1929 ballpark was beginning to show its age. Baseball as a business was changing at all levels and Rochester needed to keep up in order to hold on to its beloved team.

At the time, Major League Baseball parks around the country were becoming entertainment destinations—fans were coddled with new comforts, conveniences, and concessions. This trend soon shaped the minor leagues as well. Cities that previously had no professional baseball team promised fancy modern stadiums to potential franchises. As the Red Wings were the top farm club of the Baltimore Orioles, cities closer to Baltimore offered to construct brand new facilities to entice the Orioles to relocate their AAA affiliate. 

In the early 1990s, the International League initiated a study of its stadiums that looked at all aspects of the baseball game experience from the perspectives of spectators and players alike. The study of Silver Stadium was intensive and exhaustive and concluded that the venue was no longer sufficient to be the home of an International League franchise.

Baseball had outgrown 500 Norton Street. A new stadium was a requirement, not a request, for the Red Wings to continue to call Rochester home

A postcard of the aging Silver Stadium. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

Controversy immediately surrounded the future of the Red Wings in Rochester. Local media and residents all chimed in. Some did not believe that the IL was serious about pulling the franchise from Rochester. Others did not care if the city lost its team even though professional baseball had been in Rochester since 1877. However, many others in the community were passionate about holding on to the Red Wings.

Keeping baseball in Rochester created huge questions: where would the new stadium be built? What would the new aesthetics be? And, the largest question of all, who would pay for it?

After a massive public relations campaign, the proponents of keeping baseball in Rochester prevailed. A new downtown stadium was designed and approved by the International League. 500 Norton Street, in turn, would be torn down.

The N.E.T. (Neighborhood Empowerment Team) office moved into a former ballpark building at 500 Norton Street in 1997. Courtesy of City of Rochester.

RCB and Red Wing management devised ways to blend the spirit of the old venue with the new one, like transporting Silver Stadium’s historic home plate to the new ballpark. In a unique fundraising event, the Rochester community was given an opportunity to physically obtain a piece of their baseball memories from Silver Stadium.

In October of 1997, Scherrer Realty & Auctions presided over the auctioning of anything that could be carried away from the stadium. The auction catalog listed over 300 lots. Every part of the stadium was on the auction block. From the seats to the advertisement signs, from the concession stands to the bathrooms, from office equipment to field equipment, and from doors to uniforms, the effort was made to generate as much revenue as possible.

A circa 1936 scorecard from the auction. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

This author and his 12-year old son attended the auction. The audience was a cross section of the Rochester baseball community. Many fans brought their children and grandchildren. People were given free reign to explore the stadium before the auction and access to previously off-limit areas was now permitted. When the auction started, memories drove many purchases—nostalgia ruled the crowd.

We brought home a few physical memories that day. Eight red seats from a reserved seating section became seats on our pool deck. A turnstile, which counted thousands and thousands of fans over the years, now counts the people going into our backyard. A #18 Red Wing jersey, along with a 1936 Red Wing program now help tell Rochester baseball stories.

Former Silver Stadium seating. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

Some memories just can’t be bought–like the memory of the smell of the old stadium, which was a magical mix of cigarette smoke, popcorn, hot dogs, spilled beer, and fresh cut grass. Many people at the auction remembered their first sight of the pristine field upon entering the stadium and the unique experience of a first-time game under the lights. How many of those there that day remembered as kids running in the cinder-covered parking lot behind the stadium or running down the ramp from the top level after a game?

A well used turnstile from 500 Norton Street. Courtesy of Daniel Cody.

When the auction was over, people lingered. Swaps and trades were made, and stories were shared. Many attendees reflected that this would be their last time at the historic site. A few went on the infield and scooped up a handful or two of dirt to take home. More than a few of us, for just a brief moment, relived the dreams we had as kids about playing professional baseball…We ran the bases at 500 Norton Street.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on March 25, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Time After Time: Carolyne S. Blount & about…time

Rochester’s history is rife with stories of innovative women who have made their mark in a variety of professional fields. In the realm of publishing, the most famous example is likely Susan B. Anthony, who, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, established the weekly newspaper, The Revolution, in 1868. A lesser known, but nevertheless significant figure from the field, is Carolyne S. Blount.

Carolyne S. Blount. From: Democrat & Chronicle, February 28, 2007.

Carolyne Scott was born in Richmond, VA in 1943. After earning library science degrees from Virginia State University and Drexel University, she began working at the library of Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD.

In the late 1960s, she took a position with IBM, where her husband, James Blount, was also employed. A job transfer led the couple to Rochester in 1970.

The same year that the Blounts made their new home in the Flower City, an ambitious trio of area residents, Peter Bibby, Gloria Winston, and Jim Sartin, had the idea to create a local African American magazine. They enlisted the help of advertiser John “Hank” Jackson to publish the periodical, which they named about…time, and put out the first issue in December 1970.

about…time’s introductory issue from December 1970. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Feeling that mainstream media outlets provided minimal or biased coverage of African Americans, about…time‘s founders established the monthly publication to serve as a voice of, and a forum for, the local Black community.

Carolyne S. Blount became the magazine’s editor, believing in the publication’s focus on unseen and unsung heroes, whom she deemed to be “the backbone of the community.” Carolyne and her husband James assumed ownership of the magazine in 1972.

about…time offered a blend of local stories and news items combined with features on pertinent national and international topics.

Local material included interviews with everyday people, recipes, and a “Poet’s Page,” showcasing the work of budding bards. In its early years, about…time also featured a directory of Black-owned businesses.

A directory of ca. 1970 Black-owned businesses from the inaugural issue of about…time. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Often, the magazine served as a corrective to mainstream media, by covering otherwise untapped stories and offering more nuanced portrayals of commonly misconstrued topics. Notably, it produced several features on the Black family, a subject of frequent debate in politics and the press.  

The September 1983 issue of about..time was one of several that offered an assessment of Black families in America. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

In 1984, when Rochester celebrated its sesquicentennial, little attention was paid to the experience of the city’s African American population, so about…time published a masterfully researched six-part series on the history of the local Black community, called “Rochester Roots/Routes.”

The first of six issues devoted to the history of Rochester’s African American community. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

While the magazine sought to offer fresh perspectives, it did not aim to proselytize. As Carolyne S. Blount informed the Democrat & Chronicle in 1992: “It’s not lecturing. It’s not being opinionated as such. It’s just showing the assets in our community. And it gives people a chance to tell their own stories.”

By the time the magazine celebrated its 20th anniversary that year, it had a circulation of about 27,000 and copies were being shipped to 47 states.  

While the monthly publication is no longer operational—its last volumes came out in the 2010s—its back issues constitute an invaluable and incomparable resource, offering several decades-worth of coverage of the local African American population as well as Black perspectives of broader topics affecting both their community and the nation as a whole.

President Obama was featured in the magazine’s first issue from 2009. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

As Carolyne S. Blount summarized the magazine’s mission, “It’s about unfinished business. It’s about everybody’s achievements. It also recognizes who we are. It’s about cherishing ourselves. It’s about time.”

Fortunately, the Local History & Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library has an almost complete run of this unique and important publication. Readers interested in delving through its fascinating pages can make an appointment to do so here.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on March 11, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Two Worlds: Rochester’s Anti-Apartheid Movement

Rev. John Walker speaking at an Anti-Apartheid march in 1985. From: Democrat & Chronicle, September 15, 1985.

These days when South Africa appears in the local news, it is often in conjunction with the COVID-19 variant first discovered in that country. Thirty years ago, the nation made headlines locally and globally when Apartheid legislation was repealed. The decision to end the official system of racial segregation in South Africa was influenced in no small part by the sustained protests of Anti-Apartheid activists from all over the world. Rochester, for its part, witnessed Anti-Apartheid efforts ranging from demonstrations by grass roots organizations and student groups to economic boycotts launched by local industries.    

The local Anti-Apartheid movement took root in Rochester in the 1980s. United Church Ministries, an umbrella group for 85 Black churches, sponsored the first major protest in the city in 1985, a march that drew some 40 demonstrators. Rev. Raymond Graves, president of UCM, informed reporters, “Rochester has been very quiet on this issue. But this is a beginning. We will be coming here Sunday after Sunday until we wake up this city.”

Rev. Raymond Graves standing in front of New Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on Scio Street. From: Democrat & Chronicle, May 31, 1998.

Many marchers likened the struggle abroad to the Jim Crow system that once defined the American South. As demonstrator Mary Harper noted, “It may have taken years to change things there, but it happened. It makes no difference that South Africa is so many miles away or I don’t know a single person there. The situation has to change there too.”

As local grass roots groups like the Coalition for Justice in Southern Africa continued to hold lectures, meetings, demonstrations, and fundraising events, the city’s leading industries faced mounting pressure to break any direct or indirect economic ties they had with South Africa.

Kodak instated an embargo on all shipments of its products to South Africa and sold the property it held there in 1986.

Headline announcing Kodak’s removal from South Africa. From: Democrat & Chronicle, November 20, 1986.

The following year, Xerox, which had maintained a presence in South Africa since 1964, sold its business assets there. It continued, however, to permit sales of its products in the country. Bausch + Lomb did the same through a local distributor, but sold its South African properties in 1988.

Such economic entanglements fueled the Anti-Apartheid movement that unfurled at the University of Rochester in the late 1980s.

In 1987, UR expanded its stock portfolio to include several companies that had either direct investments or licensing agreements in South Africa. The decision, which was especially jarring since the university had not previously had holdings connected to the country, sparked outrage among many students and faculty.

To protest the move, a number of students—including Black Student Union members—and community groups joined forces to build a shantytown on the main quad of the university’s River Campus that October. The collection of makeshift wooden shacks, which students took turns sleeping in, was meant to resemble the impoverished settlements that many Black South Africans inhabited. It was hoped that the encampment would provide a constant visual reminder of the oppressive system to which the university was economically contributing.

UR students and Rochester community members erecting a shantytown on the River Campus in October 1987. From: Democrat & Chronicle, October 4, 1987.
The shantytown in front of Rush Rhees Library. From: the Democrat & Chronicle, October 4, 1987.

The symbolic protest proved effective. Five days after the shantytown was erected, the university’s trustees reversed the school’s policy of investing in companies that did business in South Africa and announced that UR would liquidate all pertinent stocks by June of the following year.

While the decision marked a step in the right direction, it did not prove satisfactory to the protestors. As Shelly Clements, president of UR’s Black Student Union explained, “The issue was and continues to be that people are dying in South Africa and will die before next June. This decision is a start but it’s nowhere near the finish.”

Shelly Clements, president of UR’s Black Student Union. From: Democrat & Chronicle, June 18, 1993.

The shantytown inhabitants vowed to maintain their residency on the quad until the university’s divestment was complete. They eventually moved out in December 1987, after the university agreed to speed up the stock-selling process. By March 1988, the university had completely cut all its economic ties (worth some $20-25 million dollars) with South Africa.

Taking down the shantytown in the winter of 1987. From: Democrat & Chronicle, December 17, 1987.

Three years later, South Africa began the process of formally ending the oppressive Apartheid system that had marked and marred the country for much of the twentieth century.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on February 25, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

500 Norton Street, pt. 3: The Baltimore Years

A 1988 Red Wings Governor’s Cup Ring. Courtesy of: R.G. Stackman. Photo By: Emily Morry

The honeymoon between Rochester Community Baseball (RCB) and the St. Louis Cardinals only lasted a few seasons. RCB owned the International League franchise while St. Louis provided the athletes for Rochester’s team. As such, St. Louis saw Rochester primarily as a place to develop their young players. RCB, of course, wanted to put a winning product on the field to satisfy their ticket-buying fans.

In 1959, Clyde King was manager of the Wings and he had his own thoughts on how to win: play the best players. At first, King followed the Cardinals’ approach, but the Wings weren’t winning, and attendance was falling. As King started to replace the young players with the older, more experienced players, wins increased as did attendance. RCB and the Rochester fans were happy, but St. Louis was not.

This difference of views came to a head in 1961. St. Louis decided to replace Clyde King with a manager who would make use of the available young talent, but RCB sided with King and stood up to the Cardinals’ management. St. Louis abruptly cancelled the relationship with Rochester. However, RCB management had already been in contact with the Baltimore Orioles as a potential replacement. Baltimore agreed to keep Clyde King as manager and to supply players for the Red Wings. This change in Major League affiliation was known in the press as the “Big Switch.”

Heavy hitter John “Boog” Powell. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, July 19, 1961.

The first big impact player of the Baltimore years was John “Boog” Powell. Known as the “Boy Mountain” by local sports writers, “Boog” put up big numbers for the Wings. Leading the International League, he batted .321, knocked in 92 RBIs, and smashed 32 homeruns.

1963 started the long relationship between Rochester and Joe Altobelli. The outfielder played three seasons with the Wings then returned to Rochester to manage the team for six years in the 1970s. He became the RCB general manger in the 1990s. Altobelli expanded his connection with the Wings when he served as the color commentator for Red Wings games from 1998 to 2008.

Red Wings mainstay, Joe Altobelli. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, April 18, 1971.

The same decade that Joe Altobelli first joined the Wings, 500 Norton Street received a new name. Known as Red Wing Stadium since 1929, the ballpark was renamed Silver Stadium on August 19, 1968, in honor of Morrie Silver, who led the 1957 stock drive that saved Rochester baseball.

The Baltimore connection was very fruitful during the 1970s. The Wings, under the leadership of Joe Altobelli, won the Governor’s Cup in 1971 and 1974. Baltimore was developing future MLB players such as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich, who earned the Minor League Player of the Year awards in 1970 and 1971. Slugger Jim Fuller smashed 91 home runs between 1972 and 1976.

Don Baylor. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, April 24, 1970.
Bobby Grich. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, June 12, 1971.

The 1980s represented a unique era at 500 Norton Street. By this time, the circa 1929 ballpark was starting to show its age. After much deliberation, negotiations, and plain hard work, a $4.5 million renovation was completed in 1987, the same year that the city celebrated a century of professional baseball in Rochester. Seats were replaced, rusting girders were removed, new concrete was poured, locker rooms were renovated, public facilities were updated, and the whole stadium received a beautiful new coat of paint.

Renovating the aging Silver Stadium. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, March 17, 1987.

Baseball history played out at 500 Norton Street in 1981. A young third baseman with enormous talent and potential played in just 114 games as a Red Wing that year, but hit .288 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs. He was quickly elevated to the Orioles where he would go on to set the MLB record for consecutive games played. That player was Cal Ripkin Jr.

Another International League Championship was celebrated in 1988 when Manager Johnny Oates led the Wings to the Governors’ Cup. The team captured the cup again two years later in 1990.

The 1990s continued to see Baltimore supply quality players to the Wings. In May of 1994, Baltimore acquired Jeff Manto and sent him to Rochester. The 1994 season was not a great year for the Wings–they finished 7th–but it was a great year for Manto and the fans who came to see him play. In his only year at 500 Norton Street, Manto hit .297, smashed 31 homers, and had 100 RBIs. Rochester fans witnessed Manto lead the IL in homers, RBIs extra-base hits, total bases, and on-base percentage. He truly earned the award for the IL MVP of 1994.

1994 International League MVP Jeff Manto. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, September 15, 1994.

By the mid-1990s, there was concern in the air about 500 Norton Street. Though an extensive renovation had recently been undertaken, reality started to settle in. Silver Stadium was a circa 1929 ballpark with a new coat of paint.

A Red Wings game at Silver Stadium circa 1991. From: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, August 23, 1996.

The old stadium just could not compete with the newer facilities in the International League. Other cities at the time were in the market for a professional baseball team and promised to build a new stadium if promised a franchise. Officials from the International League and the Baltimore Orioles started to question the future of Silver Stadium and the Rochester Red Wings. The question that needed to be answered in Rochester was how to respond to the threat to 500 Norton Street—a large question indeed.

A lifetime pass to Silver Stadium from the late 1980s. Courtesy of R.G. Stackman. Photo by: Emily Morry.

-Daniel Cody

Published in: on February 11, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

“Tramps Like Us”: Memories of Front Street, pt. 2

An aerial shot of Front Street, just to the right of the Genesee River, as it looked in 1965. From the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street, as detailed in the previous post in this series, was once the main commercial hub of Rochester. But it was also once considered by some to be the toughest street between New York City and Chicago. The historic roadway no longer exists, but its legends and lore remain.

After it was laid out in the early nineteenth century, Front Street became the city’s downtown shopping destination where Rochesterians could purchase everything from clothing and candles to hay for their horses. 

Front Street’s hay market, which opened in 1834 and remained in place till the early twentieth century, is seen here in 1852. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

By the Civil War, such vendors had become increasingly interspersed with saloons, lodging houses, and pawnshops.

Known at that time as the “Little Bowery” (after the New York City street and neighborhood of the same name), Front Street’s reputation soured over the course of the late nineteenth century as gambling dens and “disreputable houses” run by figures such as “Morphine Liz,” “One-Eyed Susan,” and “Scar-Faced Annie” took up residency along the roadway.

Such vice purveyors became synonymous with Front Street as reports of criminal activities in the area peppered the pages of the local press.

Sensational headlines detailing nefarious activities on Front Street. Top image: From the Democrat & Chronicle, July 23, 1879. Bottom image: From the Democrat & Chronicle, December 16, 1878.

In 1894, a reporter from the Union & Advertiser pronounced: “Probably no street in the city is more infested by thieves, gamblers and crooks of all kinds than Front Street,” and warned that, “respectable women cannot pass through the street on a Saturday evening without being insulted or annoyed in some way.”

But while Front Street was not without its faults, it is likely that turn-of-the-century journalists were overzealous in their reporting of such sensational stories and whetted the public’s thirst for such sordid details in their attempts to peddle more papers.

When a Rochester Herald reporter reviewed police records in the late nineteenth century, he discovered that the majority of the area’s crimes were of the petty variety and more often than not involved confrontations between fellow Front Street residents.

A common form of theft occurred when a down on his luck or (involuntarily) dry denizen stole meat from one of the avenue’s many markets and tendered it to a local saloon owner in return for a much needed quaff.

Francis Doud’s saloon at 79 Front Street. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Since the street housed many second hand shops, other less perishable stolen goods were also easily exchanged for profit. On one occasion, a clever crook disrobed a dummy in front of a store window then sold the pilfered coat back to the shopkeeper, who didn’t recognize the garment.

One Front Street dweller deliberately broke the law on an annual basis. Following the first snowfall of the season, “Chicken” Murray would commit an act of petty theft before turning himself in so that he could pass the rest of the cold Rochester winter in the pen.

From: the Democrat & Chronicle, October 28, 1920.

Like Murray, most of Front Street’s scofflaws struggled to make ends meet and resorted to criminal activity to support themselves or their respective habits. Many took at least occasional refuge at the People’s Rescue Mission, which moved to Front Street in 1888 and offered nightly lodging for ten cents or on a pay-what-you-can basis.

A number of eateries also catered to the less than fortunate on Front Street. Twentieth century establishments such as Hall Brothers and The Big 27 offered inexpensive but filling fare to professionals and paupers alike, and served free holiday meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Splendid Restaurant at 150 Front Street, seen here in 1957, was one of many eateries on the avenue. Photo by Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The Big 27, which opened up in the 1940s at 27 Front Street, was the domain of Tessie Krikszens, who spent several decades dishing up corned beef, polish sausage, and other hearty lunches for Rochesterians from all walks of life. She held a special place in her heart for the downtrodden, whom she supplied with free fare whenever possible.

Herbert “Paddy” Paddock and Tessie Krikszens of the Big 27 restaurant and bar. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

The manager of Krikszens’ establishment, Herbert “Paddy” Paddock, not only served as the erstwhile “Mayor of Front Street,” but was perhaps the best-known character in the avenue’s history. The third and final post in this series will detail the life and times of this fascinating local figure.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on January 28, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

A Picture Postcard-Rochester’s Picturesque Parks

Rochester is blessed with beautiful parks scattered throughout the city. Right from the earliest days of Rochesterville, parks have been part of the fabric of the community.

The Local History and Genealogy Division of the Rochester Public Library has an amazing collection of postcards, which visually document the history of many local sites, including the city’s picturesque parks.

Here are just a few highlights…

Washington Square Park is located at the corner of Court Street and South Clinton Avenue. Elisha Johnson, an early settler of Rochesterville, set aside some of his land in 1817 for what would become the city’s first park. The small greenspace would go on to become the center of many social events over the years and has historically served as a gathering place for activists, such as Frederick Douglass, to speak out on the issues of the day. In 1892, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument was erected in the park to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. An inscription on the memorial reads: “To those who, faithful into death, gave their lives for their country, 1861-1865.”

 

Washington Square Park as it looked in the early twentieth century. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Rochester’s park system is unique in that it features four major local parks designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who was responsible for planning Central Park in New York City.

 One of the first Olmstead-designed parks in Rochester is Maplewood Park, which runs between Lake Avenue and the Genesee River on the city’s northwest side. Opened in 1888, the park stretches for two miles along the beautiful Genesee gorge featuring scenic waterfalls. At the corner of Lake Avenue and Driving Park Avenue is the world famous and nationally accredited Maplewood Rose Garden, which boasts over 3,000 rose bushes of all cultivars and colors.

Some of the iconic roses of Maplewood Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Seneca Park runs along the east bank of the Genesee River just north of Maplewood. This Olmstead park was opened in 1893 as “North Park.” It provided Rochesterians with 15 acres of greenspace along three miles of beauty in the forested gorge of the Genesee River. Early visitors enjoyed strolls along its many pathways. Since the early twentieth century, guests have also had the option of driving through the scenic area from the comfort of their own cars.

A number of features were added to the site over the years. Trout Lake was created by damming a natural spring. Up until 1922, visitors could tour the lake on swan boats propelled by drivers who pedaled the vessels like bicycles.

For many years, Seneca Park’s swimming pool was very popular on hot summer days. A bandstand was constructed in 1910 and concerts were frequently given, drawing large crowds.

The bandstand on picturesque Trout Lake. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

The park’s zoo opened in 1894 with a small variety of deer and birds. The large main zoo building was constructed in 1931 and for many years housed a variety of animals. The popular local attraction continues to thrill young and old alike.

Seneca’s Park circa 1931 zoo building. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Genesee Valley Park  Just as Seneca Park was known as “North Park” when it opened in 1893, Genesee Valley Park (also designed by Olmsted) opened the same year as “South Park.” The Genesee River divides the park in half. Olmsted’s intent was that the park’s east side would evoke a tranquil pasture. A flock of 80 sheep not only added to the tranquility, but helped keep the grass trimmed as well. The park’s west side was designed for recreational activities.

Some of the sheep that once populated Genesee Valley Park’s pastoral east side. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Highland Park  The crown jewel of Rochester’s park system is Highland Park, which was also designed by Olmstead. Built in 1888 on 20 acres of land donated by famed nurserymen George Ellwanger & Patrick Barry, Highland Park was one of the nation’s first municipal arboretums.The park itself achieved world renown for its collection of over 500 varieties of lilacs. The lilac collection was started in 1892 with 20 varieties planted by horticulturist John Dunbar. Some of these varieties were descendants of flowers that early settlers had brought with them to the United States.

Highland Park lilacs. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Ellwanger and Barry also donated flowers, trees, and shrubs for the park. In addition, they funded the building of a pavilion dedicated to the children of Rochester that became known as the “Children’s Pavilion.” Highland Park has grown over the years to 155 acres and is the site of the world-famous Lilac Festival every May.

Highland Park displays a vast collection of beauty. In the springtime, when more than 1,200 lilacs are in bloom, their fragrance engulfs the park. Countless photographs have been taken of the dazzling varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurels, and andromedas. The sweet-smelling magnolias add a little extra color to any picnic. Scattered throughout the park are patches of wildflowers, perennials, and exotic trees.

Some of the rhododendrons lining the hills of Highland Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

Every year, a new pattern is created in the park’s oval pansy bed using the colors of more than 10,000 plants. This annual drawing using living plants is awaited by city residents–What will the plants grow into this year?

Pansies in the Park. From: the Postcard Collection of the Local History & Genealogy Division.

-Daniel Cody

Did You Know?…

The Local History & Genealogy Division has approximately 3,000 postcards in its collection that date back to the early 1900s!

You can learn more about the history of postcards and the library’s collection thereof in the following article by Deputy City Historian, Michelle Finn:

Greetings from Rochester: Exploring the Past through Postcards

Published in: on January 14, 2021 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment  

Meat me in the Morning: Front Street memories, part 1

While this year’s holiday season undoubtedly feels different, many Rochesterians will still engage in an exchange of gifts and many will commemorate the occasion with a festive meal. Although the available options for purchasing presents and food fare alike are seemingly endless these days, for many years one place served as the destination for much of the city’s holiday shopping needs—Front Street.

Front Street ran from Main Street up to Central Avenue. From: City of Rochester Plat Map, 1910.

Front Street now consists of one stunted block on the west side of the Genesee River, but it once ran from Main Street to Central Avenue, and thanks to its myriad establishments and eateries, was once known as “the oldest shopping center in Rochester.” Though Front Street’s heyday is long gone, some of its memories are preserved in a unique collection of photographs housed in the Local History & Genealogy Division.

The east side of Front Street as it appeared in 1913-14. From: the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

First laid out by Nathaniel Rochester in 1811, Front Street quickly developed into a commercial avenue. Over the course of that decade it became home to tailors, chandlers, clothiers and shoemakers, as well as a hay market. The first incarnation of the Rochester Public Market took root on the street the following decade in 1827.

But the avenue’s best-known business establishments were perhaps its meat markets. Every year, city dwellers and residents of surrounding towns made the pilgrimage to the street to purchase high quality turkeys, geese, ham, and fish for their holiday celebrations.

Most of the meat markets lined the street’s west side while the poultry purveyors set up shop on the east side. Many of latter shopkeepers were known to dispose of their chicken entrails by tossing them out the back of their stores directly into the Genesee River. Fowl play![1]

Birds and rabbits dangling in the window of Elmer Fox’s Poultry shop at 50 Front street. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
Washing the windows of Wayne Poultry ca. 1957. Photo by Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street also had its fill of fishmongers. Renowned Rochesterian Seth Green first made his fish spawn hatching experiments at the Centre Market, located at 29 Front Street. His business partner in the store, which opened in 1850, was Levi Palmer. When Green left the shop to raise freshwater trout, the firm was rebranded the Palmer Fish Company. Today, the company is better known as Palmer Food Services.

A 19th century portrait of fish culturist Seth Green. From: The Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
Another Front Street fishmonger was Rochester Seafood, pictured here in 1957. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Another iconic Rochester culinary institution also got its start on Front Street. The “white hot” was allegedly a creation of Ottman Bros. at 47 Front Street, but the local delicacy is now almost synonymous with Zweigle’s, which maintained a location (and erstwhile saloon) on Front Street from 1863 till 1916.

Zweigle’s location at 50-52 Front Street, seen ca. 1913-14. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.
“How the Sausage Gets Made.” An employee of Zahner’s Sausage at 59 Front Street. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Front Street also featured a bevy of butchers beyond those specializing in sausages. Both Andrews Market (73 Front St.) and Fahy Market (Front St. at Andrews St.) were long-running establishments whose quality meats were prized by holiday shoppers and year-round carnivores alike. Another well-known butcher shop was that owned by Louis Jacobson.

In 1923, after having saved up 17 dollars from his newsie job, Louis Jacobson bought a slew of pork chops for 3 cents a pound and began hawking them to local restaurants from the back of a truck. He repeated the process until he had enough money to rent a stall at the Rochester Public Market. He opened his own establishment in the late 1920s and moved to 51 Front Street in 1935.

Jacobson, who carried the title of “Mayor of Front Street” for a little over a decade, maintained his market there until 1965, when urban renewal sounded the death knell for the once indispensable commercial avenue.

Butcher Sam Soscia at work at Jacobson’s Meats, ca. 1957. Photo by: Kenneth B. Josephson. From: the Collection of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History & Genealogy Division.

Though its meat markets had remained respected for the duration, Front Street had experienced something of a decline in the first half of the twentieth century, shaped in part by some of the other businesses and patrons that populated the avenue. The next blog post in this series will explore the seedier side of the street.

-Emily Morry

[1] Sorry. I turned into my uncle for a minute there.

Published in: on December 23, 2020 at 10:30 am  Comments (1)  

500 Norton Street, Pt 3: When Rochester Fans Saved Baseball

A postcard of Silver Stadium at 500 Norton Street, circa 1930-1940.

As much as baseball loves to maintain the status quo, by 1956 the sport had begun to experience major changes. Rochester was not immune to this wave of change.

The end of the 1956 season saw the St. Louis Cardinals reviewing the structure and financials of their farm system. The Cardinals pondered cutting ties with Rochester as the partnership was expensive, but offered the Red Wings a compromise solution–if local ownership of the team could be established, the Cardinals would still maintain a relationship with the city by using Rochester to develop their top-level players.

There was a plausible pathway to keep professional baseball in Rochester, but actions needed to be undertaken quickly, and they would be expensive. A group of local businessmen and politicians formed a committee to explore the possibilities of buying the Red Wings from St. Louis.

A formal organization, Rochester Community Baseball (RCB), was established with the aim of keeping baseball in the city. Elected officers included Frank Horton, Warren Allen, and Frank Gannett. Morrie Silver, a very successful Rochester businessman and head of M.E. Silver Corporation, was unanimously chosen to lead the very ambitious venture. It was an un-precedented action in baseball.

 

RCB Officers Allen, Gannett, and Horton and President Morrie Silver. From Democrat & Chronicle, December 2, 1956.

“I would like to see the Wings purchased lock, stock and barrel. The ideal way to get into this thing would be to pay off immediately the St. Louis interests in entirety.” Silver stated to the press.[1]

St. Louis established a price of $550,000 for the ballpark, equipment, real estate, and a full working agreement. When St. Louis initially stated that they wanted out of Rochester, a “Save the Wings” movement drew $294,000 in pledge money. This pledge drive showed St. Louis and the International League that Rochester was serious about keeping baseball in the city.

The plan was to sell stock in Rochester Community Baseball to generate the entire purchase price. If a mortgage could be avoided, RCB would save five to ten thousand dollars a year in interest. All these amounts were large sums of money in 1956. By year’s end, negotiations resulted in St. Louis lowering their asking price to $525,000.

As a show of good faith to the community, Morrie Silver bought $25,000 worth of stock. Silver wanted to personally show that RCB was a good investment. Early in 1957, letters went out to all pledgers asking for their checks for actual purchase of RCB stock. Stock price was set at $10.00 per share. The public stock subscription went into high gear.

A circa 1957 pledge form for RCB stock purchasing. From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 6, 1957.

In order for the deal to proceed, a down payment of $300,000 needed to be in the bank before January 15. The fans of Rochester kept their word and the checks covering their pledges poured in.

On January 23, 1957, the deal was signed, and the down payment was made to St. Louis. Red Wings fans deposited $304,760 in the RCB bank account in just three weeks. It was hoped that stock purchases would continue so loans would not be needed to cover the balance due.

Purchases kept coming in, but RCB needed to plan to borrow $175, 000 from four local banks. Lincoln Rochester, Genesee Valley-Union, Central Trust, and Security Trust Local all deemed the team a worthy investment.

After completing what was referred to as the “72 Day Miracle,” Rochester was ready to own a baseball team. On February 27, 1957, the final paperwork was signed between Rochester Community Baseball Inc. and the St. Louis Cardinals.  

“This is a big day for our community, and its people have a right to be proud,” said RCB president Morrie Silver.[2]

On signing day, there were 7,562 new owners of the Red Wings. The number of investors eventually swelled to 8,222. The number 8,222 has been “retired” by the Red Wings and is now displayed on the center field wall at Frontier Field.

Rochester Community Baseball truly lived up to its name. Rochester, as a community, proudly owned the Red Wings and 500 Norton Street continued its role as the home of Rochester baseball.

From: Democrat & Chronicle, January 23, 1957.

-Daniel Cody

[1] Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, December 2, 1956, p.1

[2] Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, February 28, 1957, p. 41.

Published in: on December 10, 2020 at 10:30 am  Leave a Comment